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May 11, 2015

The boy who walked 25km to be at our school

Vy N and his friends play football at our school
Vy N and his friends play football at our school

 

Dear friends and supporters of Kampot Traditional Music School,

 

The Boy who walked 25km to be at our School

In 1997, three years after the opening of our school, we housed two young sisters who had been abandoned by their mother. Their father, who was a musician had died when they where very young. Two years after 1997 their mother returned out of the blue from the island of Koh Kong. Our school helped the girls establish a loving relationship with their mother and overcome their sense of abandonement. Sadly their mother was very ill with Tuberculosis, although we helped her treatment in the local hospital, she developed a resistance to the illness and it spread very quickly into her internal organs and she died in great pain from TB of the liver.

These two girls who originally came from a remote part of Chumkiri District in Kampot, also had two brothers. One was grown up and kept their patch of land cultivated, but the other was their age and wanted to come to our school. We had waited, while their mother was ill, so as not to disturb the family balance and to respect the rights of their mother to be with her children.

One morning not so long after her death, the younger boy Vy N. suddenly turned up at our school. He had walked by foot from his remote village at the foot of the mountains in Chumkiri all the way to Kampot town, a distance of over 25 km. He had walked all night and in the early hours of the morning was stopped at a police checkpoint (because there was still civil war in the area) at the entrance of the town. Taking pity on this young boy, the police kindly gave him breakfast and then set him on his way.

Vy N. applied himself with a quiet determination and excelled in Mohori music, Folk Dance and Painting. We tried to get him enrolled on the arts course at the Royal University of Fine Arts in Phnom Penh, but because he had not attended as a young child, he did not receive a place. Therefore we hired a local artist to give him lessons in drawing and painting, until the local artist moved from Kampot.

Vy N is now a young man and together with his younger sister Vy L they have formed a traditional wedding music ensemble in Kampot and earn a living performing at weddings and festivals in traditional Cambodian style. The older sister who went to university now teaches dance for a South-African NGO. Additonally Vy N is also part of an amazing fusion band, which combines his Tro Sau instrument with guitar, vocals and drums. The band consists of two Cambodians including himself and a former outreach student at our school, two Western musicans and a singer from China! The group is incredibly popular with foreign visitors to Kampot and the location where he plays becomes full of guests who listen for hours to the band. He has become famous and is known as the "Best musican in Kampot".  Who would ever guess that this talented man was once a very shy, quiet boy who walked so far, determined to get to our school and study music!

 

Invitation by the Ministry of Culture to perform at ASEAN Conference in Thailand

 

Recently the Minister of Culture invited our school to register for the ASEAN Conference in Thailand "Art for All" which will be held in August. We will be accompanying one of our very talented Mohori music students who is blind, to go and give a recital at this conference together with our Pin Peat teacher. It is a great honour for our school to be invited and a wonderful opportunity for our student.

 

Fundraising Day 13th May

 

On Wednesday 13th May we will be holding a special Fundraising Day with GlobalGiving, who will match all donations. This time instead of the first donations being matched, GlobalGiving will wait until the end of the event and match all donations, this ensures that each donations gets matched and not only those who donate first. Please Participate! We really need your help! The event starts at 09:00am Washington DC time and ends the same day at 11.59 pm.

 

Dear friends, thank you all for having donated these last months and for all those who have given to us regularly each month. Thank you all for having faith in our school and supporting our children. We are so grateful.

 

From everyone at the Kampot Traditional Music School for Orphaned and Disabled Children - Khmer Cultural Development Institute

With his friends at school in the garden
With his friends at school in the garden

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Feb 27, 2015

Our project expands to include 10 blind children

A blind student learning the Chhing
A blind student learning the Chhing

What We've Been Doing Recently

 

In December, the Kampot Department of Social Affairs requested us to take into our care four new children. The children come from remote rural areas in Dang Tung District in Kampot. We happily welcomed these children, two boys aged 10 and 12 years and two sisters, girls aged 8 and 10 years.

The two girls in particular had severe health problems when they arrived at our school. Their parents had died and they had been left in the care of a female relative, however the relative neglected them both physically and emotionally. On arriving at our school, they were suffering from malnutrition and poor health. They both had so many lice in their hair, that their heads were bleeding and infected. It proved impossible to comb out the lice or use medication to cleanse their hair, because there were literally thousands of lice. In the end we had to cut off all their hair and then treat the infections caused by lice bites and itching. Their few items of clothes brought from home, were also embedded with lice and eggs and  we had to unfortunately burn them. We of course bought new clothing to replace the old ones. Our staff think that if the children had not come to our school in time, they would have died from malnutrition and complications due to lice-related infections.

We took them to the hospital where they received check-ups, vitamin prescriptions and vaccinations against Polio, Tetanus and Diptheria. The youngest girl suffered from frequent fainting spells and so was visited by both a heart specialist and a psychologist. The doctors diagnosed post-traumatic stress and advised our staff how to help the little girl.

Two months later these two little girls seem completely different people, they are now healthy, happy and play cheerfully with our other children, enjoy going to school and love singing and learning dance.

Our two new boys have also settled in well into our school and are enjoying their new friends, studies, music, dance and drawing.

For us, these episodes go to show the reality in rural Cambodia today. Although the Cambodian government is encouraging more foster homes, many cases have shown that Cambodian society in general, is not yet ready to take on this kind of responsibility. There is still a long way to go before the social consious develops sufficiently to take proper and loving care of children who are not care-giver's own children.

 

Exchange Program with an Italian Primary School

Our children have been having fun with a long-distance cultural exchange with paintings and pictures from an Italian primary school and a Skype call. Where both groups of children performed their own music to each other through Skype. Our Cambodian children then prepared their own pictures and greetings for the Italian children.

 

Visit to the Minister of Culture

The founder of KCDI together with teaching staff went on the 16th February,  to visit the Minister of Culture and were received by her in an official ceremony to give thanks for the many years work KCDI has done to restore and preserve traditional Cambodian culture and performing arts and with very vulnerable children. The Ministry of Culture is struggling to protect it's cultural programs in the face of anarchy and general corruption in Cambodia.

 

Our New Music Program for Blind Children

In December I was contacted by an Australian man who is himself blind, about the plight of 10 blind children in Kampot Province. This remarkable gentleman and his Cambodian wife are helping provide clothing and food to these children. Together we are partnering to meet the different and complex needs of these children.

Meeting with our staff, we decided to assist these children by providing free music lessons in Mahori music. Tragically in Cambodia there is very little attention given to the needs of blind people. Although Braille has been introduced relatively recently, there is no national program which provides vocational training and job possibilities to people with this disability. Many blind people are destined to live their lives on the street, begging.

Through the tuition of Mahori music, we would like to provide these children the possibility of a professional vocation through music, so that they may form their own Mahori ensemble when they are older. Mahori music is performed with mostly stringed instruments, apart from the drum and the miniature cymbal. This music is used for festivals and celebrations, but also a branch of Mahori is used for weddings, "Plein Ka". Musicians sing through the wedding ceremony and traditional music is considered so important, that without it the wedding is considered incomplete and inauspicious. We have also offered our school space for any of these blind children wishing to receive computer and technological training.

 

Cambodia Today

During my recent visit, I was deeply shocked to discover the huge rift between the rich and the poor. A divide which has steadily worsened within the last ten years, with poor people worse off than they were a decade ago.

There are many reasons for this situation. Perhaps the first is the lack of democracy in Cambodia with the same prime minister (apart from a brief interval of 3 years) in power for over 30 years. The second is the massive corruption that takes place. Cambodia once rich in natural resources and minerals, has been stripped of copper, gold, stones and timber and these materials long with the wealth accumulated from the sale of them has gone out of the country, with no investment made in the country itself, so that there is no proper sanitation, infrastructure. Mega villas stand next to tiny huts and in Phnom Penh the back streets are filled with dirt, never cleaned and with, in some areas, open sewers running through them. No thought or planning has gone into this once beautiful city, just a race to get as much money and power as possible.

Together with large foreign business companies, many from SouthEast Asia, the country has been plundered, leaving forests and hill-sides bare and eroded like dusty deserts, rivers poisoned by luxury tourist resorts and ordinary Cambodians dispocessed of land and homes, as the rich and powerful forcefully take their land. Little islands are bought up to be used as luxury resorts. 

There is less and less land for Cambodian people. There have been so many landgrabs that in some areas people can no longer cultivate rice, yet rice is being exported in ton loads, the price of rice, the staple food of Cambodians has gone spiralling up and up. The luxury lifestyle of rich foreigners and corrupt officials in Phnom Penh has pushed the price of food up so high that many ordinary people cannot afford to eat properly. Our school is also struggling to buy enough food and rice.

Without proper rule of law and the plundering of resources by Cambodians and foreigners, so too has the dreadful practice of trafficking and abuse of women and sexual tourism with minors. Even Kampot still beautiful, thanks to the vision of the governor, is however prey to drunk and drugged tourists.

Here our school stands after 21 years, still focused on helping children from the poorest and most difficult backgrounds and to remembering and conserving Cambodia's traditional culture and performing arts; not for tourists, not for the corrupt, but for the millions of ordinary Cambodians struggling to live decently and who still love and still cherish their cultural heritage.

 

Help Us

Please help us. Last year we only raised a fraction of what we really need to run our school, which is $45,000. Yet our budget is very small if you think that we help up to 20 orphaned children in residence, give free music lessons and coaching for 10 blind children, give free tuition in the arts to over 400 very poor children from rural areas and free music tuition to 20 highly talented scholarship students. We have no wasteful expatriate overhead salaries or costs. All your donations go directly to our project.

Please Donate as quickly and as generously as possible, that we may continue running our school and helping so many. 

 

** Permission was granted to take and display photographs of students and staff

Some blind students during Mohori practice
Some blind students during Mohori practice

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Attachments:
Feb 24, 2015

New scholarship students join our program!

Performance of outreach & resident Yike students
Performance of outreach & resident Yike students

 

 

News from Kampot

 

I recently returned from a trip to our school in Kampot, Cambodia to be with our staff and children and to see how our programs are progessing.

You have all been helping sponsor over 400 primary and secondary school children mainly from the Di Pok state school, but also from other local state schools, who all come to study traditional Cambodian music, dance and theatre at our school. Many are very poor and come from quite degraded and difficult backgrounds. The tuition of the arts in this form gives these children not only an opportunity to learn about their heritage, but it also provides them with an objective, keeping them away from street-life, glue sniffing and youth gangs.

After more than a year each sector from Pin Peat music and Mahori music ensembles to folk dance and Yike have begun performing in special public concerts in order to show their achievements and gain a certain professionality in stage skills. When they perform they are very proud of themselves! The interest in this program is such that now two new groups of state school students want to join our program.

 

What we've been doing Recently

In a local competition our school represented the different aspects of traditional Cambodian culture, from the different music forms, from the Yike to classical dance. Linking these different themes was a group of high school students on our training program from Di Pok school. In a form of narrative theatre they took the audience through different stages of the peformances. In the storyline they appear as high school students attracted by drugs and rave culture, but then they meet an old wise man who instructs them on the beauty and harmony of their ancient cultural heritage. The performance witnesses the transformation of this group of students from intolerance to tolerance from impatience to patience and from hate to peace and open-mindedness. The students were excellent in their performance.

 

Scholarship Students

Both our Mahori music and Pin Peat music teachers in their spare time formed two different ensembles with rural children, not connected to the free arts training program, ie not part of the state school and KCDI program. These very poor students were drawn to study the different musics from their own individual interest and passion for Cambodian music. The Mahori ensemble is with slightly older adolescent students, while the Pin Peat ensemble is with younger mostly pre-adolscent students. The talent of these different children is such that in a short space of time they have learned over 30 different Pin Peat pieces!

The younger Pin Peat students come from a rural area outside the town and towards the cement factory. They are not only very poor, but their families have significant problems. Coming home from school they often don't have anything to eat because their parents have spent all day gambling and drinking. The children tend to work very hard helping their parents in the rice fields, therefore learning music for them is a very important release from the pressures and difficulties of their daily lives.

Our school has now decided to officially insert them into our teaching timetable, providing food, care and assistance for those children worst affected by negligence and poverty. With the permission of their families and in coordination with them, we have formed this special group of highly talented scholarship students.

 

Please keep on Helping us!

 

Please continue helping our program. Your generosity has provided wonderfully diverse arts tuition for so many children and now our scholarship students too. Unfortunately the gap between rich and poor in Cambodia is ever-widening. Exacerbating this divide is the rising cost of food and rice. In order to help our scholarship students study they also need to be supported and to eat. This is one way of lightening the burden of costs for their families and ensuring that they continue studying and have a future away from alcohol abuse and addictive gambling. We also need to support out teachers for their priceless work, not only passing on their knowledge to new generations, but for their kindness, patience and skills.

During my visit to Cambodia, I also met the Minister of Culture who praised our school for our work and promised to protect us in the future. Our work is considered of vital importance, not only as a social development and vocational training, but representative of Cambodian people's desire to remember and restore their treasured culture.

Please tell your friends and collegues to support our work!

Thank You All from everyone at the Kampot Traditional Music School - Khmer Cultural Development Institute (KCDI)

Scholarship students perform Pin Peat
Scholarship students perform Pin Peat
Getting ready for the competition!
Getting ready for the competition!
Di Pok theatrical students
Di Pok theatrical students
Meeting the Minister
Meeting the Minister

Links:

 
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